The morning after National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster denied a Washington Post story (since confirmed by the New York Times, CNN and others) claiming Donald Trump shared “highly classified” information with Russian officials, the president essentially contradicted him on Twitter. In two separate tweets, Trump said, “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.” He then cited “humanitarian reasons” for his actions, adding he “[wanted] Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
The tweets couldn’t have come at a worse time for both the White House and Russia. Soon after the Post‘s initial story first broke, McMaster issued a brief, 60-second statement to reporters without taking questions. “The president and [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov] reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” he said, which Trump’s tweets seemingly confirmed. Yet it was McMaster’s denial of the president’s sharing “intelligence sources or methods” with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that the tweet’s mentioning “terrorism” that piqued everyone’s curiosity.
Especially since news of Russia’s official denial of the Post‘s claims, courtesy of Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, were already circling. According to the Wall Street Journal, Zakharova called the story “another fake” in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “Guys, have you been reading too many American newspapers again? Don’t read them. You can use them in various ways, but don’t read them — recently it is not only harmful, but also dangerous.”
CNN followed up with Vladimir Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who called the story “more nonsense” they “absolutely do not want to have any relationship” with.
It’s important to note, as CNN does, that Trump didn’t describe what he shared with Lavrov and Kislyak as “classified.” Both the president and McMaster offered the same base story, suggesting Trump discussed matters regarding aviation, terrorism and ISIS. However, their sources confirmed many of the main points first revealed by the Post — specifically the assertion that the information Trump shared with Russian officials was in fact classified.